Clean and Healthy Schools are Electric

Aligning California’s School Infrastructure Investments with our Climate and Health Goals

By Rewiring America, UndauntedK12, the UC Santa Barbara 2035 Initiative

Years of disruption — by heat waves, wildfires, mudslides and the COVID-19 pandemic — have demonstrated that California’s schools are not equipped to keep students safe and healthy. Aging HVAC systems cannot filter wildfire smoke or viruses, so schools close and students fall behind. Students in schools without HVAC systems altogether face even worse outcomes.

The good news is that we have the technology we need to provide healthy learning environments for California’s kids. Upgrading to all-electric HVAC systems with advanced filtration can deliver enormous educational and health benefits to California’s students and school staff, all while cutting operating costs. Electric machines like heat pumps — along with the right policies to lower their upfront cost — are a feasible, efficient, and cost-effective solution to prioritize our students and schools.

10,000 schools full of aging machines

Public schools are central to our communities. However, decades of disinvestment and failure to grapple with the realities of air pollution and extreme weather have rendered California’s public schools less safe for our children. That’s why, for the first time, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona identified climate change as a threat to his department’s mission. We must respond by equipping schools with the infrastructure upgrades they need to provide safe, healthy spaces for every child to learn.

California is home to 10,000 schools totalling 730 million square feet of buildings, making our K-12 school system one of the largest public infrastructure systems in the state. The state spends $15 billion every year on building, renovating, maintaining, and operating its school facilities, which serve 16 percent of California’s population each day. But as air pollution, wildfires, and COVID-19 threaten California’s schoolchildren, HVAC systems are proving costly to operate and maintain and unable to ensure student health and safety.

California schools are long overdue for infrastructure investments that reduce costs, ensure healthy learning environments, boost community resiliency, and cut carbon pollution. With billions of dollars of one-time funding for school infrastructure included in the 2022-23 budget, California has an opportunity to make investments that align with its climate and health goals. With the rest of the United States watching, California can seize this moment to catalyze school electrification and provide students the healthy, climate-resilient school buildings they deserve.

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